Not Too Late
Toshiba EMI, 2,500 yen
New York-based pop-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones is back with her third solo album, Not Too Late.
Jones continues to mine the same vein of subtle, sophisticated and subdued ear candy that made her two previous solo efforts smash hits. Not Too Late is possibly Jones' most personal album to date, recorded as it was in the home studio she shares with partner and longtime collaborator, bassist Lee Alexander.
Jones wrote or cowrote all 14 songs on Not Too Late and the recording shows her maturing as a songwriter and singer. While her previous albums were stylistically diverse with covers of Tom Waits, Hank Williams, Hoagy Carmichael, and even a bluegrass duet with Dolly Parton laid alongside Jones' own jazz-inflected mix of country, soul and classic pop, Not Too Late has a more cohesive feel to it. The songs flow into one another and there seems to be a more focused artistic vision.
That is not to say Jones' sound has become homogenized--if anything she has become more adventurous. As with her previous outings, most of the songs are built around Jones' piano and acoustic guitar played by a variety of guests including Jesse Harris, Tony Scherr and Kevin Breit. Jones even takes a crack at the fretboard herself on one track.
As a composer, Jones' early jazz training shows in every note, as does her obvious affection for simpler country, folk and old-time soul. Her songwriting style harks back to the prerock days of the Tin Pan Alley composers who wrote for artists such as Frank Sinatra and Patsy Cline. While songs of that era may seem bland in comparison to punk rock, bebop jazz or more flamboyant modern pop, they, like Jones' compositions, have a sense of substance, craftsmanship and musicality that most rock-based pop music simply doesn't have. Jones' songs are very much in the tradition of these so-called standards.
Still mostly understated and midtempo, songs like "The Sun Doesn't Like You" and "Not My Friend" show a darker side than Jones has previously revealed. She also gives us some political ruminations--the Brechtian "Sinking Soon" sounds like something accidentally left out of "Cabaret." "My Dear Country" is an ominous minor key lament that reminds the listener that "Nothing is as scary as election day." Going a step further, Jones shows her political colors with the lines "Who knows, maybe the plans will change/Who knows, maybe he's not deranged" with the context leaving very little question who she's singing about.
Not Too Late is a deeper, darker and more complex work than any of Jones previous material but still eminently listenable.
Buffalo Records, 2,500 yen
Keller Williams is a name that is not well-known outside the jam-band subculture, and that is unfortunate because the singer-songwriter and one-man-band has the kind of positive, upbeat, quirky sound that has broad appeal.
Dream, Williams' ninth studio album, pairs him with a wish list of favorite artists who are also mostly off the beaten track. The guest list includes Grateful Dead frontman Bob Weir, experimental banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, bass whiz Victor Wooten, jazz guitar ace Charlie Hunter, String Cheese Incident, Michael Franti, John Scofield and Martin Sexton.
Oddly enough, the standout track among the many excellent duets is "Restraint" a bouncy, earthily sexy and funny number that is pure Williams.
Dream is a must-have for Williams' fans and an excellent introduction to Williams and his kindred spirits for the uninitiated.